Two Celebrations in One Weekend

Two Celebrations in One Weekend

The next morning, Stephanie and I went to our respective schools to meet our colleagues.  I was among some of the first people at the school, at this time I still had not learned that 7:00am typically means 7:30 or 8:00.  I watched as students gathered their donation buckets, each class decorated theirs in their own style. IMG_2097 Some students were also preparing themselves in traditional Thai clothing.  There was a lot of excitement and I was eager for a Thai teacher that spoke English to arrive.  I had a lot of questions about what was going to happen that day.IMG_2109As it turned out, when P Juliette, P Ae, and Nam arrived, I did not actually get much information!  Instead, I just moved along with them and enjoyed spending time with them and the students.  First stop was outside a temple where both Songsaeng Wittaya (the elementary school where Stephanie works) and Songsaeng Commercial School and Technological College gathered together.  The students began to get into lines for the parade with some students holding their offerings or musical instruments and others ready to dance or collect money.  DSC_9574I walked up and down the line snapping photos and greeting the students.  Over the next hour, we walked through a small village collecting money and dancing.  I was roped into trying out some Thai dancing with my students.  It was a lot of fun, but it was also very hot! IMG_2116DSC_9613DSC_9650After we returned to our starting point, I asked what we would do next.  Some teachers told me we would go to temple.  Stephanie and I were shuffled into a van with some of her colleagues and we drove along for a while.  We passed many fields filled with trees that were perfectly separated into lines.  I had noticed such trees before and we took this time to ask someone about them.  It turns out they are rubber trees; Hat Yai is a big manufacturer of rubber.  As we pulled down a dusty road, I noticed many towns people gathered together along with our students.rubber treesEveryone piled out of the van, Stephanie and I were left standing on the side of the road quite confused.  She went off to find some of her colleagues and I settled in with my camera.  I noticed some older women ahead of our students, they were also in traditional dress.  Over the next ten minutes, there was another procession leading up to the temple.  It was a very basic and simple temple complex with a pagoda, a few buildings, and many white chairs underneath a tent.IMG_2124 DSC_9683After the long line of villagers and students proceeded through into the temple complex, Stephanie and I were hurried down to where food was being served.  There was an amazing buffet of Thai food and I enjoyed it all while taking in the scenes.  IMG_2122Some students ate as others passed around food, drinks, and washed dishes.  I tried an incredible dessert of red rice/wheat with coconut milk.  It was extremely delicious.  At this time, I found out that basically we would wait up under the tent and sit for an hour or two until noon.  Then there would be another procession around the Chedi.

I sat with my teachers under the tent, avoiding the bright sunlight, watching the locals enjoy one another’s company.  The kids ran around giggling and cooling off with drinks.  Teenagers hung back and chatted.  The elderly sat close to the offering, drinking water, and leaning in towards the few fans.DSC_9688After some time passed, the older woman dancers lined up.  As a gong blared and a beat arose from drums, they danced around the Chedi.  Behind them came the villagers, the school’s dancers, band, students, and teachers.  Together they danced around the Chedi three times.  I joined them on the last two rounds and we laughed and danced together.  DSC_9743The offerings were then moved into one of the buildings and our director went to formally offer it to the monks, who surely blessed it and chanted.  I later found out that our school and the local villagers raised 80,000 baht for the temple, which is nearly $2,500.  I felt very proud to have been involved in such a celebration.  I was taken aback by how helpful and invested the students were in helping raise money.IMG_2133The day ended rather early and I was offered a ride back to the school.  Of course, not before a stop at P Juliette’s home and sister’s noodle shop.  We enjoyed noodle soup in mostly silence as I reflected on the day.

On Sunday evening, Stephanie and I set out on my motorbike to find Hat Yai Municipal Park.  We had heard this is where many people gather to celebration Loi Krathong.  This celebration is very similar to the one I celebrated in Laos with my “family” in Savannakhet.  Along the way, I stopped to buy a krathong, and fondly remembered making mine with the locals at Ping’s home.IMG_2168We easily found the park as traffic gathered on the road from many people parking and crossing the street.  We parked the bike and followed the crowds.  Soon we were along the water and watching as families, farang and locals alike, lit their krathongs and sent their wishes and worries along.  With a festive feel all around me, I happily lit my candle and incense as I thought on my wishes.  I slowly watched it float away and blend in with the many other floating krathongs all along the water.IMG_2182IMG_2185 Stephanie and I wandered around the park a little more, discussing our own spiritual and religious beliefs.  I took in the scenery: noting the smells of food and incense, the laughs of children, the flickering candles, and the warmth I felt within.IMG_2178I enjoyed the weekend and reminded myself that these experiences were why I had left everyone and everything I love and know… to find moments of joy and wonder through the lens of another culture.

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